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WASHINGTON — Nearly 6,900 Department of Veterans Affairs patients were battling coronavirus infections Thursday — a record-breaking number of cases for the department.

On Thursday morning, the agency reported 6,890 active cases, which includes veterans and VA employees. The previous high was about 6,400 during a surge of infections in mid-July. Cases increased 10% since Monday.

According to agency data, 81 more veterans andtwo employees died since Tuesday, bringing the total deaths to 4,098 veterans and 64 employees since the start of the pandemic.

Reflecting national trends,cases among VA patients are surging in the Midwest. The Minneapolis VA hospital has the most cases across the VA system, with 203 patients who are currently sick with the virus – up 8.5% from Tuesday. Milwaukee, Wisc., is a close second, with 196 patients, an increase of 7% from Tuesday.

Though active cases are rising higher than ever, VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said the count of active cases is not the best way to measure how the virus is affecting patients. Instead, the agency is looking to the rate of hospitalizations.

For the month of October, hospitalizations among coronavirus patients reached a low point of 15%.All VA hospitals have capacity to meet current demand and care for additional patients, Noel said.

However, hospitalizations are on the rise. They increased by more than 20% over the past week, bringing the total to 606 veterans hospitalized with the virus Thursday.

The VA’s data does not include all veterans, such as those who have died or contracted the virus at state-run veterans homes.

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.
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